“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV).
Yes, I know that I’m jumping the gun a little bit – after all it is only the third week of Advent – yet I’ve been thinking about some of the traditional themes of Christmas like peace on earth and good will toward men. And, before you correct my translation of this verse, I know that a better reading would be “…on earth peace among those whom he favors.” However, I’ve been pondering the idea of “good will toward men.” In my mind, there is no better time to practice good will toward others than during the holidays. We’re sending Christmas greetings to those we love, we’re shopping for the perfect gifts for those who are dear to us, we’re welcoming friends and neighbors to our holiday parties. But is this as far as our good will is to extend? Are we welcoming to all?
Matthew’s gospel tells us that our Holy Family fled to Egypt as refugees after a visit by angels warning them that it wasn’t safe to stay where they were (Matthew 2:13 – 15, NRSV). According to World Relief, the Bible also speaks of immigration and our responsibility to welcome the foreigner or stranger in at least 92 verses (). These Scriptures stand in opposition to our current administration’s views on immigration and refugee resettlement yet, clearly, this is an important part of living as God’s people. It saddens me when I hear acquaintances speak as though justice is like a pie: if immigrants and refugees get a piece, there will be less for us. This just isn’t the case; there is enough justice to go around if we are all working together.
Indulge me while I quote Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, yet again. In his book Barking to the Choir: the Power of Radical Kinship, he writes:
For Jesus, the self that needs to die is the one that wants to be separate. This is the self that recoils from kinship with others and balks at union at every turn. It is the self that wants it all to remain private and thinks it prefers isolation to connection. We all know that the early Christians believed that “one Christian is no Christian.” This larger sense of belonging to each other acknowledges that many are the things that connect us, and those that divide us are few and no match for our kinship (p 195).
We can demonstrate our desire for kinship and connection through our attitudes and actions toward immigrants and refugees. One way to begin is through the 3rd resolution that we adopted at our Diocesan Convention in October:
Call for a Humane and Just Immigration System
RESOLVED, that the 183rd Convention of the Diocese of Michigan urge congregations to seek information in order to more fully understand the current immigration policies of the United States, the deportation policies affecting adults, children, refugees and others, as well as the Secure Communities program of the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency (ICE); and be it further
RESOLVED, that Episcopalians urge lawmakers and local officials to commit to the principles of humane immigration enforcement; and be if further
RESOLVED, that Episcopalians in the Diocese of Michigan are urged to seek collaboration in study and action with other congregations and community groups regarding immigration and deportation policies, as well as meeting and communicating with their elected representatives.
The sponsors of this resolution (Bruce Donnigan, the Rev. Ellis Clifton, the Rev. Ron Byrd, and the Rev. Charles Swinehart) shared the following rationale:
In the fifth Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer, we proclaim that we will “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being”.
Some of the practices followed currently by ICE and some state and local law enforcement agencies have been found to be unjust, inhumane and disrespectful to the dignity of those arrested and detained. As people of faith in community, we are called to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbor.
Suggestions for ways to learn more about these issues include adult education forums, book study, and community workshops and other learning opportunities.
The Episcopal Migration Ministries of The Episcopal Church has as its mission to “live the call of welcome by supporting refugees, immigrants, and the communities that embrace them as they walk together in The Episcopal Church’s movement to create loving, liberating, and life-giving relationships rooted in compassion”.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has addressed immigration issues in the form of resolutions. The 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (2012) passed a resolution regarding immigration practices then in force. The resolution called for a halt to the Secure Communities program of ICE, which was suspended in 2014, and reinstated in January of 2017, and was described as a program “in which local jurisdictions send fingerprints of detainees suspected of immigration violations to federal authorities, which in practice leads to lengthy detention at the public expense of unrepresented immigrants who have no serious charges pending against them, and effectively discourages victims of various crimes, such as domestic violence, from reporting those crimes”. The resolution also urged the Episcopal Church “to decry the use of racial profiling or the use of race as a reason to question one’s immigration status”, and asked that the Church “oppose the use of identity checks for the purpose of determining immigration status”.
The 78th General Convention (2015) passed resolutions urging support of expanded immigration relief to keep families together (maintaining DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), urging Church-wide assistance to undocumented persons, forming partnerships with local agencies to provide assistance to immigrant families, and more.
More information and suggestions for action can be found on the Covenant 5 website.
I think that much of the rejection of immigrants and refugees arises from fear: fear of the unknown, fear for our own security, fear of not having sufficient resources for our own needs, etc. I know that it’s easy to judge those that are not supportive of immigration and refugee resettlement yet that won’t help to change the culture. The fears may be irrational; but they are real for those that are living with them. If we are going to promote inclusion and welcome, we must help to allay the fears. We need to listen to their stories and acknowledge their feelings while we model acceptance and welcome in our words and actions.
We can begin by becoming better informed. Covenant 5’s website has some helpful resources – One article you’ll find there introduces you to some of the DACA recipients whose status now is in question. Another describes the experience of a Mexican mother after her deportation. I would also recommend two books which, while not specifically on topic, address our need to grow in our commitment to welcome others: Radical Welcome: Embracing God, the Other, and the Spirit of Transformation by Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Stewardship of Creation; and Barking to the Choir: the Power of Radical Kinship by Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ. A novel that tells the stories of three refugees fleeing violence and unrest in their homeland, Refugee by Alan Gratz describes the desperation and courage experienced by those searching for a safe place to call home.
You can also let your legislators know of your support for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) by going to the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s (EPPN) action page . EPPN has a page of resources that will provide more information on immigration and DACA. For information about refugee resettlement, check out Episcopal Migration Ministries website.
In this season of giving and good will, let us remember God’s greatest gift was given to all.
Let us pray –
Lord Jesus, when you multiplied the loaves and fishes, you provided more than food for the body, you offered us the gift of yourself, the gift which satisfies every hunger and quenches every thirst. Your disciples were filled with fear and doubt, but you poured out your love and compassion on the migrant crowd, welcoming them as brothers and sisters.
Lord Jesus, today you call us to welcome the members of God’s family who come to our land to escape oppression, poverty, persecution, violence, and war. Like your disciples, we too are filled with fear and doubt and even suspicion. We build barriers in our hearts and in our minds.
Lord Jesus, help us by your grace, to banish fear from our hearts, that we may embrace each of your children as our own brother and sister; to welcome migrants and refugees with joy and generosity, while responding to their many needs; to realize that you call all people to your holy mountain to learn the ways of peace and justice; to share of our abundance as you spread a banquet before us; and to give witness to your love for all people, as we celebrate the many gifts they bring.
We praise you and give you thanks for the family you have called together from so many people. We see in this human family a reflection of the divine unity of the one Most Holy Trinity in whom we make our prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
~ the Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council